Just weeks into the much-debated Times Online paywall venture, the majority of the public thinks Rupert Murdoch's experiment with paid-for content will fail.
According to PRWeek/OnePoll's latest survey of 3,000 members of the public, 78 per cent did not think the paid-for model would succeed and 67 per cent thought its previous users would visit other newspaper sites instead. Separate studies have found The Independent to be an early beneficiary, with its web traffic exceeding traffic to The Times for the first time.
Many have argued getting the public to pay for online content relies on that content being of a higher quality than freely-available content. This view was reflected by 73 per cent of the respondents, who agreed paid-for content needed to be of higher quality. But just 14 per cent believed the Times Online content was of higher quality than free sites and forty-two per cent did not think the content was better.
Looking ahead, 17 per cent of respondents thought other papers would follow The Times' example and put content behind a paywall, but 70 per cent said this depended on whether The Times model worked. However, there is little public support for paid-for online news. The vast majority, 92 per cent, said it was important for online news to remain free. Now The Times is behind a paywall, 40 per cent of respondents said they saw it negatively and 17 per cent said they saw it very negatively.
PRWeek and OnePoll found the consensus appeared to be that charging for news was not a good idea. 'They are just getting greedy,' said one respondent.
Survey of 3,000 members of the public conducted by global research agency OnePoll
HOW I SEE IT - Danny Whatmough, Consultant, Wildfire PR
By putting its entire site behind a paywall, The Times is hoping the strength of its brand will convince a small, but hardcore, segment of readers to stump up some cash. The obvious question therefore is whether the brand alone is strong enough to convince users to subscribe. This research suggests it is not, with 40 per cent saying they view the post-paywall brand 'negatively'.
So, if the brand isn't strong enough, the focus is on whether The Times generates enough valuable and unique content to convince visitors to pay.
Traditional media have always been slow to get to grips with the internet.
The challenge for The Times - and its competitors - is to achieve a balance between free and paid-for content. Publishers should provide general news for free, but charge for niche content.
The Times needs to define what it stands for, increase the perceived value of its content and maximise its online presence to reach new readers.
Do you think other newspapers will follow The Times by putting their online content behind a paywall?
Depends if The Times model works or not 70%
- Do you think The Times Online content is of higher quality than other newspapers' websites?
Don't know 43%
- Advertising: 93% of respondents thought newspapers should use advertising rather than a paywall to earn money online
- Charges: 92% agreed that it was important for online news to remain free of charge
- Success: 78% did not believe the paid-for model adopted by The Times would succeed
- Positivity: 2% said they saw The Times in a very positive light now that it was behind a paywall